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Monday, May 6, 2013

Are You "Learning Enabled?"

Are You "Learning Enabled?"

by Steven P. Velasquez
May 6, 2013

I was doing some Spring Cleaning today, but not of the physical variety. I was mulling through folders and folders of previously important email, messages etc... when I happened upon one that is a keeper for sure. The words within it were touching, though not authored by the sender. The fact the sender found me worthy of such words is what touched me so deeply and leaves me glad I didn't hit delete.

The person who sent it was a student of mine. She too is an educator, in the public school system if memory serves me correct. Often when I teach my classes, I share with the students a part of my life that is a little embarrassing, has caused me much grief (probably more for my parents) but I share it with my students willingly to help alay their fears. You see, they sometimes appear eager and are so quick to come tell me their problem, their issue, their excuse for their anticipated underperformance. They set the expectation - for failure.
  • "I don't test well."
  • "I'm a hands on person. I can't do book stuff."
  • "I have a learning disability."
  • "I have test anxiety."
While certainly not trying to dismiss those with developmental delays, cognitive impairment, or verifiable obstacles, I have found from my life's journey, that often the missing ingredient is simply passion for a topic, and a leader, guide, guru or journeyman to enthusiastically help one along the way.

In the 1980's, I was diagnosed by counselor's as "Learning Disabled." I had performed so poorly in school that I found myself before a child study team and after batteries of tests, that was their finding. The kid, who was in gifted and talented programs in his youth, was now encouraged to:
  • Learn to use your hands.
  • Become a carpenter, construction worker, or mechanic.
  • Join the military.
There is absolutely no shame in any of the above!

I was told I "was not expected to accomplish anything of academic significance." When I share these embarrassing facts before my students (EMT's, Paramedics, Nurses, Doctors and Specialists), they gasp. "How could they?" "Where did they get their degree from?" "What's wrong with them?"


"I feel like a Kentucky fried idiot" - Rocky 1976
Had any of you sat across a table from me, you'd have the same assessment. I earned it. When asked to read before the class, I'd deliberately make it painful for them. I sounded like Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky." I deliberately would read like the "Kentucky fried idiot."

It would be such an auditory insult to my classmates, the teachers would limit my performance and better yet, not choose me to speak again. This was my desire! I believed I was disabled and led them to the same conclusion. The result? Less work for me and no expectations.

Somewhere along the way I got involved in the Emergency Services. I finally fell in love. I finally found a topic(s) that gave me wings, a topic to be inspired and empassioned by. A body of knowledge that drove me to read page after chapter, after book after volume; and today, I no longer see myself as disabled in any way. Quite the contrary. I am LEARNING ENABLED. I have gifts that I've developed, honed and shared through the years. Today I stand before classrooms, lecture halls and auditoriums. And today, I whisper words of encouragement into the ears of those I precept, of my students, my audience. It turns out I was never "disabled," just different.

This beautiful woman, this student of mine, sent me this email in spring of 2012, and I'm touched deeply a year later. Thank you Miss Hamilton.

Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids who don't always get A's,
The kids who have ears twice as big as their peers,
And noses that go on for days.

Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids they call crazy or dumb,
The kids who don't fit, with the guts and the grit,
Who dance to a different drum.

Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids with a mischievous streak,
For when they are grown, as history's shown,
It's their difference that makes them unique.
Addressing a class of 2nd year medical students at the University of Medicine & Dentistry - Newark, NJ Dec. 2012

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